Nigeria is not the only country where Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) experience difficulty accessing credit facility. According to the Acting Chief Executive Officer of CWG Plc, Adewale Adeyipo, small businesses in the United States experience the same struggle.
Adebayo said there is nowhere in the world where the Small and Medium Enterprise exists as a perfect entity. It was learnt that the challenges faced by the entrepreneurs in Nigeria confront owners of small businesses in the developed world as well.
For many SMEs in Nigeria, lack of financial support and tax incentives has been a barrier that is too high to overcome, and this has led to the demise of some small and medium businesses at their early stages, while for companies that were able to scale through, maintaining its deep-pocket investors is another struggle.
[READ MORE: MSMEs to get N154 billion credit facility from LAPO]
Although in recent years, SMEs have found comfort in private equity firms and venture capitalists, as banks are known to sideline small business owners from having access to credit for years. However, not every sector or market enjoys the privileges of private equity firms as most usually focus on tech-related businesses.
To withstand the pressures of the business environment in Nigeria, Adeyipo advised that small and medium enterprises should keep evolving as new challenges arise. He stated that the significance of the SMEs to the growth of the economy can’t be overquantified.
“The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council (SBE Council) statistics revealed that 99.7% of U.S. (United States) businesses are SMEs. However, there are several barriers that the U.S. SME sector still faces, especially in commodities. The significant barriers to trading include insufficient access to finance, high transportation costs, tax laws, and rules, maintaining profitability, developing new products, language, and cultural differences.
“Gaps like these signify no SME ecosystem is perfect, and they are required to keep evolving with time as new challenges arise. Despite the challenges in the SMEs market in the US, the sectors still contribute 47% of total employment.
“While in developing economies like India, the contribution of the SME sector to manufacturing output, employment, and exports of the country is quite significant. It is noted that regarding the value, the SME sector of India accounts for 45% of the manufacturing output and 40% of the total exports. India’s SME sector employs around 42 million people in over 13 million units throughout the country.”
[READ ALSO: DBN meets SMEs’ financial need with over N70 billion]
His statement regarding the essence of SMEs to a nation’s economy isn’t far from the truth, as SMEs in Nigeria contribute 48% of national GDP in the last five years, account for 96% of businesses and 84% of employment. With a total number of about 17.4 million, they account for about 50% of industrial jobs and nearly 90% of the manufacturing sector, in terms of the number of enterprises, this is according to a PWC report.
Speaking on the need to provide more than financial support for SMEs, Adeyipo said policymakers need to ensure a friendly business environment to support the growth of SMEs.
“Strategic implementation takes care of financial aspects, human resource, marketing, research and development, technology, and corporate governance in the SME sector.
“SMEs in developed nations are not only relying on credit availability but technological innovation and infrastructural policies. Hence, it is critical for policymakers to create an enabling and sustainable environment as a bedrock for SMEs to flourish.”
[READ FURTHER: 11,000 MSMEs secured N37bn loans in 2018 – Access Bank]
Board room squabble tears HealthPlus apart
HealthPlus founder Bukky George and its Private Equity majority investors Alta Semper fight to retain control of the retail pharmaceutical company.
Nigeria’s and West Africa’s online retail pharmacy – HealthPlus, is going through a boardroom and shareholder squabble, that threatens the operations of the company. The battle for ownership of the company is now between Alta Semper, a private equity investor in the company, and Bukky George, the company’s founder, and CEO.
The dispute attracted media attention after a press release was issued, announcing Chidi Okoro as Chief Transformation Officer of the company. In a press release seen by Nairametrics, the ‘company’ reported that Mr. Okoro’s “mission is to optimize day-to-day management, and elevate the business to novel scale and profitability,” effectively removing the founder, Mrs. Bukky George, as MD/CEO.
This press release set off a chain of online and social media mudslinging, that has had both sides court public sympathy for who is in control of the company. Mrs. Bukky George issued a counter press release, denying that she had been removed as MD/CEO. According to her side of the story, she claimed the press release was not authorized by the company and termed it false.
“We wish to inform the General Public, the Pharmacists Council of Nigeria, our Staff, loyal Customers, Vendors, Landlords, Bankers, and all Stakeholders that the press release was NOT authorized by the company or anybody acting on its behalf, and that the announcement of the appointment of a CTO is wholly FALSE.”
Alta Semper on the other hand maintains, “The majority of the Board of Directors of the Company, determined that a change of leadership was required if HealthPlus was to achieve its strategic goals, and the former CEO’s appointment was terminated in accordance with its terms.”
Reliable sources informed Nairametrics that several attempts from both sides to resolve the matter have failed, due to a disagreement on the terms and conditions for the injection of capital into the company. We understand that HealthPlus is going through financial challenges, and is in dire need of capital to remain in operations.
What are they saying?
Alta Semper, in a follow-up press release, alleges that the decision to remove Mrs. Bukky George “was made in full compliance with Nigerian laws, and follows a long and drawn-out process of engagement,” through which the Board sought to address multiple issues with the way the company was being managed.
- They claim that this was after a series of “significant breaches of the terms,” of Mrs. George’s engagement as CEO of the company.
- That the “board had explored a range of options that would enable her to continue to play an alternate leadership role,” but she rejected such an arrangement. However, they did not mention what they meant by ‘an alternate leadership role’ in the company.
- They explained that it “became clear that an amicable resolution was not going to be possible. and as the multiple issues persisted, urgent action was required to avoid adverse impact on the entire business, including customers, employees, suppliers, and other key stakeholders.”
- They also claim that despite the ‘former CEO’ not achieving the target they set for her, they had sought to provide financial support for HealthPlus through ‘growth capital.’
- However, “Mrs. George has not only refused to agree to offers of additional investment on commercially reasonable terms, but attempted to force ASC to restructure the existing binding contracts governing their relationship agreements, which she readily signed in 2018, after taking independent legal and financial advice.”
- Alta Semper also maintains that despite removing Bukky George as CEO, she remains a director of the company, while its appointee Chidi Okoro, oversees the day-to-day operations of the company.
- It believes this is necessary for the benefit of all stakeholders and as a result, “the majority of the Board of Directors of the Company determined that a change of leadership was required, if HealthPlus was to achieve its strategic goals, and the former CEO’s appointment was terminated in accordance with its terms.”
Bukky George issued a press release alleging that the appointment of Chidi Okoro was not authorized by the company or anybody acting on its behalf.
- She claims that the appointment of Chidi Okoro as CTO is wholly false, wrongful, illegal, and should be totally ignored.
- She also claims “it was the handiwork of unscrupulous foreign, local businesswomen, and businessmen’s intent on reaping where they have not sown, simply because they now see opportunities from the COVID-19 pandemic, like scavengers and vultures.”
- Bukky George alleges that Health Plus ran into “troubled waters primarily,” because Alta Semper failed to take over the company, thus starving it of funds required to operate.
- She also alleges that Alta Semper has an obligation to fund HealthPlus, in line with its agreements.
- She mentions that in May 2020, she instituted a legal action at the Federal High Court, seeking to stop HealthPlus African Holdings Limited, from continuing to run and manage the company “in an oppressive and prejudicial manner, and in total disregard of her interest as a member of the company,” which she ostensibly founded.
- She further cites withholding of funds, meddling with management, interference with the functions of key employees, abuse of corporate governance processes, and attempt to remove her as CEO, as what she wanted the court to stop.
- She affirmed that there is a restraining order against Alta Semper.
A. Muoka: In a leaked letter seen by Nairametrics, A. Muoka & Co, the solicitors to the company, wrote to Messrs. Afsane Jetha and Zachary Fond, the directors in HealthPlus, and also representatives of Alta Semper on the termination of the management agreement between Alta Semper and Bukky George.
- They claim that as solicitors to the company, any attempt to remove Bukky George is a flagrant disregard of the court’s order, as also claimed by Bukky George.
- They opined that the Board of Directors are the only ones empowered to remove Mrs. George as CEO. However, the board’s Chairman, Dr. Ayo Salami, and Mr. Deji Akinyanju had resigned from the board, meaning only two directors took the decision rather than 5.
- According to A. Mouka, the agreement required that Alta Semper and Bukky George appoint two directors each, and jointly agree on a Chairman for the company.
- The lawyers thus claim that because the board was depleted, the decision to remove Bukky George was “Male Fide’ (in bad faith), as Mrs. George was not given an opportunity to respond to the weighty allegations made against her, some of which are criminal in nature.
What we know so far
While both sides continue to issue several statements of denials and claims, here is what we have learned so far about the partnership.
- In April 2018, Nairametrics reported that London-based private equity manager, Alta Semper Capital agreed to invest US$18 million into HealthPlus. The investment vehicle used was HealthPlus Africa Holdings Ltd, which is incorporated in Mauritius.
- Alta Semper is a private equity manager founded by Ronald Lauder, (Chairman of Clinique Laboratories, a subsidiary of the Estée Lauder Company, and a former US ambassador to Austria), Richard Parsons (Chairman of Rockefeller Foundation, former Chairman of Citigroup and Chairman/CEO of Time Warner Group), and Afsane Jetha.
- The new funding was to enable the company to expand its retail footprint and enhance its competitive position.
- It had approximately 80 locations across the country at the time and currently has about 90 branches.
- HealthPlus Ltd is owned by HealthPlus Africa Holdings Ltd, with a 94,998 ownership, while Bukky George owns 5,002 shares; thus, 94.9% ownership and 5.1% ownership respectively.
- Nairametrics understands that Bukky George owns less than 50% of HealthPlus Africa Holdings, while Alta Semper owns majority shares in the holding company, estimated at between 53% and 55%.
- Sources inform Nairametrics that HealthPlus makes about N5 billion in revenue annually.
New PIB amends royalties by oil firms as Sylva clarifies position on scrapping of NNPC
The Minister has clarified that the new PIB seeks to commercialize the NNPC rather than scrap it.
The long-awaited new Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), which was just submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari to the National Assembly, has taken steps to amend changes to deep water royalties made last year.
This is as the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, has clarified that the new PIB seeks to commercialize the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) rather than scrap it.
According to Reuters, while confirming the receipt of the bill from the President, the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, said that it would be officially presented on the floor of the 2 chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday and would get quick consideration.
In addition to the earlier reported creation of a new company, Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited, to take over the assets and liabilities of NNPC and the establishment of some new regulatory bodies, a section of the bill proposes an amendment to controversial changes to deep offshore royalties made late last year. This involves reducing the royalty that oil companies pay the Federal Government for offshore fields producing less than 15,000 barrels per day from 10% to 7.5%.
It would change a price-based royalty too so that it kicked in when oil prices climbed above $50 per barrel, rather than the initial $35.
It would also codify in law that companies cannot deduct gas flaring penalties from taxes, a practice that was the subject of a court case.
Sylva made the disclosure during an interaction with journalists at the National Assembly complex after an interactive session with the leadership of the assembly.
Sylva said, “We have heard so much noise about NNPC being scrapped but that is not being envisaged by the bill at all. NNPC will not be scrapped but commercialized in line with deregulation move being made across all the streams in the sector comprising of upstream, downstream and midstream. We have said that NNPC will be commercialized.
“But if you are talking about transforming the industry, the only new thing that we are introducing is the development of the midstream, that is the pipeline sector. So we have provided robustly for the growth of the midstream sector. Through commercialization, the required competitiveness in the sector will be achieved.”
Sylva also pointed out that the host communities would have the best deal from the bill.
Nairametrics had earlier reported the scrapping of the Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and the Petroleum Equalization Fund (PEF) in the proposed new bill, in addition to the creation of a new entity, NNPC Ltd.
The Federal Government is expected to pay cash for shares of the company, which would operate as a commercial entity without access to state funds.
The changes could make it easier for the struggling company to raise funds. However, the bill does not require the government to sell shares in the company and, unlike previous reform proposals, does not set a deadline for privatization to be completed.
Software bug brings down Microsoft Teams, Azure
Microsoft’s Teams app recently experience a bit of a glitch that affected services globally.
Microsoft recently disclosed that it was investigating an outage that brought down its cloud-based office services, including the meetings software, Teams, worldwide.
Microsoft reported challenges with authentication for its cloud services at around 9.25 pm UTC, meaning people were having issues logging into the online services; Teams, Outlook, and Office. The outage had affected services globally.
In a series of tweets sent by the world’s most valuable software maker and seen by Nairametrics, the company said:
“We’re investigating an issue affecting access to multiple Microsoft 365 services. We’re working to identify the full impact and will provide more information shortly.
“We’ve published MO222965 to the Microsoft 365 Admin Dashboard, and will also be updating http://status.office.com with updates to our investigation.
“We’ve identified a recent change that appears to be the source of the issue. We’re rolling back the change to mitigate the impact. Please follow http://status.office.com for updates on this issue if you are unable to access the admin portal.”
We're investigating an issue affecting access to multiple Microsoft 365 services. We're working to identify the full impact and will provide more information shortly.
— Microsoft 365 Status (@MSFT365Status) September 28, 2020
Why it’s important: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, value chain services like Teams have been critical for individuals, and businesses working remotely.
In the month of April, Microsoft reported 75 million daily active users on Teams as a result of more people working from home.
With so many users depending on its services, Microsoft cannot afford to have any downtime. However, it reported that the services were mostly restored, though a small subset of customers in North America and the Asia Pacific were still unable to access them.